What if students baptized their friends?


Just a few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to witness fifteen high school students be baptized at our high school program. Some of them were baptized by me, some of them by their small group leaders and yes even some of them by their Christ-following friend that invited them!

Recently I did a personal study on the phrase “follow me” that Jesus used a handful of times and reiterated it in different ways with his disciples. This eventually lead me to doing a three week series with our high school students on this very thought which comes to complete fruition in [Read more…]

New places inspire new ideas.



Amazon is on to something. Consider this leading “you want it, we have it” industry that can make something magically appear on your doorstep within 48 hours and now some items within the hour.

In reading a current article on their newest “office” in Seattle, I contemplated what this could mean for the church. Amazon is investing millions of dollars and hours of thought into something that won’t give an immediate return on it’s use. This outside the box idea for a creative space is pointing towards a larger idea and I think we can learn from it as the church. [Read more…]

9 cities // 14 days


I’ve been a bit slow to post anything as of late…things have been busy to say the least.

Currently I’m writing this at 4AM before my ride picks me up for the airport. Last week I was in Dallas, Texas with 6th graders and now bound for Mexico with 8th graders. In a span of two weeks we have 200+ from the next generation going to various cities throughout the states and around the world to serve God in various ways.

Check out the photos and follow us throughout the week to see more pictures. What these students are doing is truly inspiring for all! When I return from Mexico I hope to write a bit about short-term trips and best practices I have found over the years. What questions do you have about short-term serving experiences?

3 ways to avoid living in the past.


The glory days.

I remember back in 6th grade I had hit my prime on the football team. I racked up 26 touchdowns that year, I thought I was headed to the NFL. Then I stopped growing and oddly enough stopped being good at football. Sometimes I wish I could go back and relive that season, but that’s not going to happen and I have to live with the fact that it’s a different season of life and no matter how badly I wish to be in the NFL it’s simply not going to happen, I need to focus on what I can do with the gifts and strengths I have now.

We hear senior pastors and youth pastors reminisce about the good old days when they had 500 students show up for a camp way back when or people bring up what happened when “that” person was on staff. Or perhaps they hang on to “one of the best moments ever in our church was when…”

The past. It’s a slippery slope. The longer we live in the past the harder it is to strive for the unseen success of the future.

A mission/vision statement should be able to tell us if we have done our job in the past and keep us focused on what we are chasing after next. Strategy will shift and morph along the way with culture to help accomplish the said vision, this part can be frustrating for those that like consistency and to some point you do indeed need consistency to have the necessary traction to move forward.

So, how do we stay focused on what’s next rather than dwell on what was? Here’s 3 thoughts. [Read more…]

The Leadership Development Program – a guest posting by Kristen Johnson


This is the first guest post on lifeofayouthpastor.com and I could not be more thrilled of who is writing it. Kristen (one of my former students) is awesome at what she does in ministry and has a bright future ahead, if you are at all considering an internship type program you should consider what she has to say. -Chris

Last June I was presented with an opportunity to be in the Leadership Development Program(LDP) at my church, Gateway Church in Austin Texas to work in student ministry. It’s basically been my dream since I graduated high school to intern or be an assistant here. I didn’t even know if I wanted to be in full time ministry for the rest of my life, but I did know that I loved what Gateway was all about and I loved the NextGen team!

We started the year long LDP off in August by going on a retreat to bond as a group, to work on character building, and to take a look at our personality types (myers briggs, and strengthsfinder). After those days with my fellow LDP’s and our leader Shaula, I realized that this was more than the simple internship I thought it would be. It has been an immersive ministry experience with a ton of hands on training, theology classes, mentoring by multiple people in different areas in my life, accountability with the other LDP’s , and spiritual development.

I have had the opportunity to help plan and execute our Winter Camp, help run GO! Teams (mission trips) and participate as an adult leader, go on a scouting trip to El Salvador, and to Orange Conference in Atlanta with my team. On top of all that, each week we have huddles where we get to learn about a variety of topics, from strategic planning and working with volunteers, to evangelism training and how to study the Bible!

So far, this year of being an LDP has been one of my favorite things I’ve done so far in my life! I have been blessed to work primarily under the amazing student pastor, Chris Parker, and also with the rest of the NextGen staff. I have learned so much about myself, ministry, and God’s plan! All the things I have learned this year will not only help me in my future in ministry, but also in all other aspects of my life!

The time commitment is a full year (August-August) in which you can choose to work part time (25 hours) or full time and the hours are consistent with a typical ministry schedule. Depending on your ministry area, you will serve 2-8 hours on Sundays. There is no cost to apply or attend the program. You can either work a part-time job to pay for your living experiences, or you can raise support to cover the cost of rent, food, and other necessities…Gateway will help you walk through this. The program begins in August, so you would need to be able to move to Austin prior to your start date. This year, Welcome Day is August 22nd, and the kick off week includes a retreat for all LDPs. (Read here for more FAQ’s)

If you read this and you are interested at all, with no hesitation, I would encourage you to APPLY! This program is an amazing opportunity to be mentored in all areas of life, learn from the best and make amazing friends!

Apply here before May 9th, to begin in Fall 2016.

Small Group Leaders: Listen before you lead.


I stood in the courtyard after church one Sunday and saw something that every youth pastor dreams of seeing. The services were over (yes we dream of that haha!) yet an entire middle school boys small group was still hanging out…with their leader.  They weren’t “meeting” as a small group, just talking with their leader…not throwing a football, not playing tag, not making farting noises…though this happens most of the time. In this moment theses students were relationally engaged with their leader, looking up to him, and incredibly fixed on him.

What was different about this leader than many of my other leaders? Sure, he was “cool” but even still there was something different in the way these boys just continued in conversation beyond service letting out.

After doing some digging I came to find out that THIS SMALL GROUP LEADER IS A GREAT LISTENER.

He didn’t show up to tell them how to do life better. He didn’t show up to punch a volunteer clock. He certainly didn’t do it to feel better about himself. He wanted to hear, know and empathize with these middle school boys. No doubt, it worked. These boys opened up in a way that I didn’t see other boys opening up. Because these boys knew their small group leader cared more about them as a person rather than pushing an agenda the listening became mutual.

Many small group leaders and even youth pastors are trying to figure out how to “make this small group work” because the kids are way off topic, always making jokes, not respecting the leader, etc. We try to implement rules for the small group, come up with behavior agreements, and even get parents involved to help reinforce the idea of authority. I suggest we begin with listening. If our students/kids are feeling heard I strongly believe they are more likely to listen to the leader during and more importantly AFTER small group is over.


2 things when considering strategy.

Yesterday I attended a Jon Acuff breakout here at the Orange Conference in Atlanta, he talked about strategy. It was short and sweet, and to the point…with the occasional jokes of course. Jon has a great way of weaving authentic truth into his entertaining messages. I walked away with two nuggets of truth I’d like to share with you.

Strategy forces you to acknowledge the limits. 

Many times we believe that the sky is the limit. And guess what? As leaders we are guilty for aiming at the sky. When we don’t hit the sky we’ve been chasing after, we feel as if we have failed. It’s time we consider our strategy and understand it has limits. A strategy encompasses a unique DNA that “should” help us better focus on what we are saying NO to. The word NO can be interpreted as a bad word, an uncomfortable word or even discouraging about what you can’t do. However, when we learn to say NO to good things we will begin to understand what it looks like to acknowledge our limits. This will help us remain faithful to our strategy and execute the desired outcome.

Bigger isn’t better, better is better.

I’ve had the privilege of touring many churches over the past few years. Some with bigger buildings, bigger youth groups, others with bigger budgets and bigger staff. What have I learned? Bigger isn’t better, better is better. The high school ministry I lead is actually historically smaller than back in the hay-day when it was huge. Nonetheless, I’m told often by past leaders, previous students and current staff that our ministry is healthier than it ever was before. Our team has worked hard to put a Christ following adult if not two in the life of every teenager. When you do that, things get better. We also shifted the mentality of not just getting students plugged into a program, we wanted them to be part of something greater. 50% of our students volunteer in the church on Sunday mornings, this helps make our church a better place and gives the student a place to belong in the church beyond high school program. If you are considering simply program attendance you will miss it. Bigger isn’t better, better is better.

Watch Orange Conference LIVE here!

This week is going to be awesome! What am I looking forward to the most? Glad you asked. The people. There are over 8,000 ministry leaders here who give much of their life to the next generation. The amount of influence in this place is awesome. I look forward to exchanging learnings, failures and successes with other ministry leaders. Want to learn with us this week but couldn’t make it? No worries, check out the LIVE feed here or come back for updates.

If you’re at #OC16 and want to stay connect this week hit me up on Twitter.


The power of the prop.


“That was a great message.”

“I get it now, that was super helpful.”

“I will never forget when you brought that up on stage”

I get these kinds of responses from students and leaders after a message when I use a prop.

The power of a prop can completely change the message for someone.

A prop is necessary. There are a variety of learning styles out there. The most popular styles include auditory, tactile and visual. When you speak to a group on a weekly basis and all you do is speak you are catering to a portion of the audience that connects well to the auditory learning style. What about those that are tactile and visual learners? Props are necessary for these types of learners. Recently I’ve told my middle school speakers that they need to use at least one prop in their message. I believe we are connecting more with students in this way.

A prop is memorable. I remember when I was 12 years old my pastor speaking on Matthew 7:3 – “”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” I’ll never forget when he pulled a 2×4 out from behind the pulpit and started walking around on stage speaking with it at eye-level as if it were coming out of his eye. This prop has stuck with me for 17 years. When I think about judging people, I think about the 2×4 I’m carrying around myself before I say anything. You never know how far a prop may carry into someone’s future.

A prop creates anticipation. When a student walks into a room and sees a cardboard box on stage they react, “Hmm. I wonder what that’s for?” The speaker begins his/her message and the audience knows at some point they will reference the box. The prop keeps the audience engaged and suspended in wonder of when and how the prop might be used.

Jesus used props. Who better to learn from that Jesus himself?! He knew that his audience had things around them all the time that would illustrate and reinforce the main ideas He would teach. A cup of water, a loaf of bread, a stone, a mustard seed. He took things that people completely understood to help them understand a greater truth. When we use props to reinforce what Scripture says we are teaching the way Jesus taught.

How often do you use props to illustrate your messages?

What’s one of the most memorable props you’ve seen used to illustrate a message?


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As a youth pastor I found that my best practices come from those who have been where I am headed. Discussing the current opportunities and challenges that come with leading in the church today is one of the things I look forward to the most at the Orange Conference. I believe that the Orange Conference could be the biggest bang for your buck if you work with kids/students or oversee a staff that does. (senior leaders/pastors)


I value strategy…it’s one of my strengths. Attending the Orange Conference is one of the most strategic things I believe you could do for your ministry. Arriving in Atlanta is kinda like arriving at Grand Central Station for youth ministry, it’s a massive hub that we all have in common but there are different trains to board for different destinations. Perhaps you want to learn more about small group leading…they have a class for that. Or perhaps you are trying to blend a kids and students ministry into one common vision and become NextGen, they have classes for that, or maybe you just simply want to become a better leader, they have a class for that too. The possibilities are endless on what you will learn, who you will meet, and how your church will benefit from this.

Be strategic. Get to the Orange Conference. I’ll see you there.